Breast cancer bracelets divide Valley schools

Students show support for breast cancer research, awareness.

August 26, 2010 

They're part fashion accessory and part political statement, those little plastic bracelets that come in a rainbow of colors and proclaim support for a variety of worthy causes.

But when Fresno-area students started wearing cancer-support bracelets that read "I Love Boobies," school officials drew the line. Or tried to, at least.

Among districts banning the bracelets is Clovis Unified. District officials realize that the $4 bracelets are part of a fundraising and awareness program about breast cancer promoted by mainstream groups like the American Cancer Society, spokeswoman Kelly Avants said.

But the district, which still allows students to wear "Live Strong" and "Just Say No To Drugs" bracelets, has a dress code that prohibits "any jewelry that contains any sexually suggestive language or pictures," she said.

Fresno Unified officials reacted similarly -- at first. They confiscated about 30 bracelets last week before administrators met to discuss why students were wearing them, spokeswoman Susan Bedi said.

She said some parents also argued that students should be allowed to wear them.

District officials then decided that the goal of raising money for breast cancer was important and returned the bracelets, Bedi said.

"Breast cancer has touched so many families and some students feel this is very important to them," she said.

That argument didn't fly with Clovis Unified officials.

Taylor Trujillo, an eighth-grader at Granite Ridge Intermediate School, said she wore a bracelet on campus to show support for cancer patients.

But Taylor said she was told to put her bracelet in her backpack or school officials would confiscate it.

"I didn't think it was a big deal because of the reason why I was wearing it," she said. "I feel that we should be able to wear them at school because they are not saying anything bad."

There have been scattered news reports across the country of schools banning the bracelets and, in some cases, disciplining students for wearing them.

The owner of a River Park novelty store that sells the bracelets is siding with the kids in this argument.

"Even if they are taking it as a joke, it's starting a conversation. To pretend or push away an issue doesn't make it go away," said Kirk Psenner, owner of Kwirkworld.

Psenner said sales of the bracelet at his store have raised thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society, and he takes no profits.

An American Cancer Society spokeswoman said the program is aimed at young people.

Funds raised from bracelet sales will be used for research and help pay for local support programs for patients, including cosmetics and hair replacement.

"This campaign is targeting teen years and college ages so that they can empower themselves to be advocates for their own bodies," said Charaign Sesock, an American Cancer Society spokeswoman in Visalia.

"If you can start raising awareness early on, it will only benefit them as they grow older."

One local education expert was critical of the wristbands.

Ken Magdaleno, an assistant professor at Fresno State specializing in gender equity and cross-cultural theory in the Kremen School of Education, said they send a mixed message, supporting a worthy cause but using language that is inappropriate.

"While I certainly support breast cancer awareness," said Magdaleno, a former teacher, coach, school principal and counselor, "I would want to send another message to students."

He said he was "surprised by Fresno Unified's decision," noting that word choices send messages that can create problems.

"On a high school campus, kids need to have a voice, but there are also guidelines that they need to understand," he said. "That word -- from a pop culture point of view -- is completely different than breast cancer."

And Sharon Johnson, executive director for the Central Valley Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, wonders if using a slang word offers the best results for helping to educate students and spark discussions.

She said she is encouraged to see that the bracelet is creating awareness, but noted that "to be credible, we need to use the correct terminology."

The reporter can be reached at mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6166.

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